Bill Miles is a commercial photographer and director shooting lifestyle and portraiture, primarily for advertising clients. For the last 13 years, Miles has been living in the Catskill mountains outside New York City.
Miles is a member of PhotoShelter, the leader in portfolio websites, photo sales, marketing, and archiving tools for photographers.
Why photography? Were you supposed to be an engineer?
I grew up in a now-rusty, small industrial town in Michigan. My father ran a third-generation family machine tool business and I was expected to follow suit. To that end, I studied engineering in college. But after 10 minutes of my first job after graduating, I knew that I needed to re-route this life path — and fast. Engineering didn’t resonate with me at all. I wanted to be a photographer ever since I got my first camera at 14 — but I never knew how one could actually make a living at it. That is, until I took an evening course in photography, taught by a pro fashion shooter.
The light bulbs all started going off for me – finally, I saw all the possibilities and immediately knew that this was going to be my path, too.
I had a poignant conversation with my father about my hopes and dreams – and he confided that he always regretted not pursuing his own artistic dreams of being a musician, and in that moment, cut me free from the family expectations of running the machine tool biz. He basically released me to spread my wings and pursue my dream.
Your love affair has continued for your entire career as a photographer and director, how did it develop?
I like to say that photography found me.I was an astronomy buff as a teenager, and got that first camera to take pictures through my telescope. But that changed everything. I dropped the astronomy like it never happened and started taking pictures like crazy. I set up a darkroom and learned to process film and prints. The whole process had a special magic to it. Later, after my brief first job, I went back to school at Art Center College of Design to study photography — I wanted to learn how to do it right — then assisted in LA for a few years before setting up my own studio.
Every year brought new experiences – new travel, new styles, new people to collaborate with – and my love and excitement for the craft continued to grow deeper and deeper.
There have been a few transformative assignments which have stuck with me:
Shooting in Iceland in the middle of December for 2 hours of ‘almost-daylight’, in awe of the beauty of that fleeting, dim light and dramatic landscape
Shooting on an uninhabited remote island in the Caribbean, arriving before dawn by helicopter and departing at dusk by boat
Shooting in Costa Rica with a lively crew who took a day off to learn to surf, then packed into a broken-down van in the middle of nowhere, making temporary repairs to an oil leak with gaffers tape so that we could get back to our hotel, miles away
If you can remain curious in life, and open to new experiences, the love comes easily.
What do you strive for?
Emotional connection. I want my photographs or videos and short films to evoke an emotion. To make someone laugh or smile or cry…at the very least, make them take pause and ponder, if only for a second or two, the world that they are seeing in that image.
What kind of photography do you enjoy the most?
Definitely work that has an element of social impact. My partner and I publish a digital magazine, Best Self Magazine, in the space of holistic health and conscious living. Our work with that has influenced what’s important to me. I love projects that move the needle of social progress, projects that allow me to tell the stories of changemakers of this world, on any scale.
What do you think makes a great portrait?
That’s a hard question to answer in words – it is a feeling. You simply know a great portrait when you see it. It’s going back to that special magic. It happens when the subject, the composition, the mood, the lighting all conspire to move you. Maybe it’s planned, maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s thoroughly produced, maybe not. It doesn’t matter. A great portrait is something you feel – something that makes you step out of your own life and into the subject’s.